New Releases on Thailand
Energy, Governance and Security in Thailand and Myanmar (Burma): A Critical Approach to Environmental Politics in the South
Thailand’s Hyper-royalism: Its Past Success and Present Predicament
Thailand’s political impasse in the past decade is partly attributable to the royalist dominance of the parliamentary system, a dominance developed and strengthened under the cultural condition of hyper-royalism. Hyper-royalism is the politico-cultural condition in which royalism is intensified and exaggerated in public and everyday life. It is sanctioned by legislation that controls expressions about the monarchy in the public sphere.
Hyper-royalism began in the mid-1970s as a measure to counteract perceived communist threats. Despite the fact that these threats had disappeared by the early 1980s, hyper-royalism persisted and was strengthened to support royalist democracy. Hyper-royalism generates the concept of the ideology of modern monarchy — a charismatic king who is sacred, righteous and cares for his people, and who is indispensable to Thailand — and the belief that royalist democracy is best for Thailand.
Hyper-royalism also generates the illusion that the monarchy is divine, thanks to visual performances and objects, especially through television and majestic pageantry. Accordingly, the ideal monarch is found in King Bhumibol. Given the mortality of Bhumibol, however, future prospects of hyper-royalism and royalist-guided democracy are grim. Thailand’s political future is highly uncertain.
The King and the Making of Modern Thailand
Antonio L. Rappa
The making of modern Thailand is grounded in specific political institutions, Brahmanical tropes, and sacred Buddhist traditions stylized with Hindu rituals. Over and above these mysterious practices and ancient customs, modern Thailand is a product of the late Great Rama IX Bhumibol Adulyadej. Most Thai people have only known one King. Born in Europe and educated during World War II, Bhumibol was the son of a Harvard medical doctor who had a penchant for jazz music and fast cars. When he returned to Thailand in 1951 to assume his royal duties, he could hardly speak Thai but his French and German were remarkable. Bhumibol had inherited an impoverished country with nothing but a symbolic role as a figurehead monarch. He was surrounded by envious courtiers and royals from other families now sidelined by the rise of the Chakri. Scheming generals and authoritarian field marshals were emptying the Kingdom’s coffers. Using guile and wit, Bhumibol had turned the tide by 1973. He became the most powerful modern warlord in the history of the Kingdom. He survived attempted murder, crafty politicians, corrupt generals, sycophantic courtiers and impoverished masses. When he died on October 13 2016, Bhumibol was already the longest standing monarch in the world. King Bhumibol was deeply respected and well-liked by farang and locals alike. Despite his massive social and economic achievements many problems continue to plague the Kingdom. These are prostitution, human rights issues, pollution, corruption, cronyism in Chinese businesses, border conflicts with Cambodia, and the refugee problem.
This book examines the role of Rama IX and the variegated set of problems that persist in life under the great white elephant and mango trees. Rappa draws from his primary research that includes interviews, surveys and first-hand observations of a remarkable kingdom and a uniquely remarkable king to reveal the internal security threats to democracy and civil society in the oldest Southeast Asian kingdom in late modernity.
Rural Thailand: Change and Continuity
Despite rapid industrialization in Thailand, the contribution of agriculture to GDP remains unusually high. The share of agricultural employment in total employment has also remained high, relative to the country’s income level, as has the share of the rural population relative to the total population. Agribusiness has grown significantly, and there has been a rise in the number of large and strongly financed commercial farms that are less labour intensive. Contract farming has also been developing.
The introduction of a rice premium by the government obstructed the modernization of the agricultural rice sector and caused the rice share in GDP to steadily decline, while that for upland crops such as cassava, maize, sugarcane, and oil palm increased. However, rice remains the most important crop. The high proportion of the population still living in rural areas and working in the agricultural sector attests to the resilience of that sector in the face of industrialization.